Eric Arthur Blair, now more commonly known as George Orwell was born in India in 1903, and his father was an official in the Indian Civil Service. Throughout Orwell’s childhood he felt a deep sense of isolation, a factor to later influence his writing. In 1911 he was sent to a boarding school on the Sussex coast where he was distinguished by his poverty and intellectual brilliance.
He grew up a morose, eccentric boy and in 1953, wrote of his miseries in an autobiographical essay, ‘Such, Such Were The Joys.’ Orwell won scholarships to Winchester and Eton. He chose Eton and stayed from 1917 to 1921, and during this time published his first writing in college periodicals. Despite being offered a scholarship to University, Orwell became an Imperial servant at Burma in 1922, serving in a number of countries. Yet he had a desire to become a writer, and when he realized how much the Burmese were ruled by the British against their will, he felt increasingly ashamed of his role. He later recalled his experiences and reactions to Imperial rule in his novel, ‘Burmese Days’ and in two autobiographical sketches, ‘Shooting an Elephant’ and ‘A Hanging’.
In 1927, Orwell retired his post and left Burma, choosing to live among the poor, outcast people of Europe. He resided for some time within the slums of England and France. These experiences were conveyed in, ‘Down and Out in London and Paris’ where he voiced his concerns for those worst off in society.
Orwell’s politics as a socialist writer became progressively more anti-Communist and also patriotic. After his failing to enlist in World War II, due to grounds of ill health, Orwell joined the Home Guard and increased his journalistic output. He became the literary editor of the Tribune and as did Swift, contributed articles to many papers.
Orwell had a family life, and after the death of his first wife in 1945, married Sonia Brownwell and moved to a Scottish Hebridean island also with his sister and adopted son. However, in 1950 his health had gradually declined and Orwell died of tuberculosis a few days before hoping to visit Switzerland to improve his health.
Orwell’s first popular success ‘Animal Farm’ was published in 1945. It conveys political tyranny and its effects on a society. As the title suggests the novel is set on a farm, detailing the farm animals struggle with the farm’s manager to achieve an equitable, sharing and harmonious community. Orwell’s motivation lay within his life experiences and influences, as did Swift’s. The two novelists had each experienced different forms of power and regime, yet both were able to express and convey the flaws of these authorities in different styles.
Today, Swift’s novel would be unbelievable in the context that he wrote it. However, by using this approach, he managed to avoid political retribution. Orwell in comparison, expressed his views, but in an unbelievable style to add interest and amusement. ‘I write it because there is some lie I want to expose, some fact to which I want to draw attention, and my initial concern is to get a hearing. But I could not do the work of writing a book, or even a long magazine article, if it were not also an aesthetic experience.’
As with ‘Gulliver’s Travels,’ ‘Animal Farm’ can be read on different levels. It is subtitled ‘a fairy story,’ drawing the readers’ attention to the artificial aspects, yet we know it is not ‘a fairy story’ as there is no happy ending. The reader, by being drawn in has to look closer, exploring and interpreting the true intentions of Orwell’s writing. Orwell uses animals to make serious moral points. Another example of this is ‘Aesop’s Fables’ where the characters do not behave naturally or realistically but are symbolic of certain human attitudes and ideas’.
Although Orwell satirizes dictatorship and individuals’ abuse of power in general, there are many points the novel makes that correspond with the Soviet Union and events following the fall of the Tsar in 1917. A few examples of this include: many of Marx’s’ ideas lying within Major’s speech, the failed attempts to create an equal society, the disagreements between Stalin and Trotsky that correspond with the animals Napoleon and Snowball, and the increase of Stalin’s, and therefore Napoleon’s power, in the use of terror and propaganda in becoming a dictator.
Swift satirizes human nature in general, but of individuals putting him and his friends down rather than the society around him, perhaps creating more of a personal retribution in his writing.
Orwell struggled throughout the majority of his life and received conflict at the hands of power, whereas Swift generally had a more comfortable upbringing receiving hardships at the beginning, yet with personal disagreements throughout. Orwell and Swift both satirize the abuse of power and suggest the moral of human nature, that Utopia’s are not possible due to the flaws that will always be found and created by individuals.
Orwell once said, ‘Totalitarianism has abolished freedom of thought to an extent unheard of in any previous age.’ He believed this idea was achieved by forbidding freedom of thought or action but also by telling the people exactly what to think.
This is demonstrated in ‘Animal Farm’ right from the start where Major’s statement, ‘whatever goes upon two legs is an enemy’ has been condensed to ‘four legs good two legs bad’ in order that the unintelligent sheep could understand the principals of Animalism. This simplification caused its loss of meaning, and later has appalling implications, when used to drown out or prevent uproar and revolt. This parodies the less intelligent masses of the Soviet Union and the disregard of attention to these people’s understandings of events.
There are indications that the proposed utopia will never materialise. The animals’ society is not an equal one as three pigs are seen immediately taking the best positions in the barn. Some animals are protective to others, whilst others seem intent on fighting amongst themselves. The irony of the first chapter is clear in that it establishes through Major’s speech an idealistic vision of the future in contrast of the suffering under Jones. The eventual progress of ‘Animal Farm’ shows that as the pigs distort Major’s ideas, they alter and corrupt the principles of Animalism
The element of realism is introduced by the first actions of the dogs, directly after Major’s speech where they attack the rats. This openly contradicts what Major has just stated. The rats represent the majority of the rural peasants whom the revolutionaries tried to shape to their views. Orwell suggests here that human behaviour is essentially selfish and ruthless. Swift made the same point when Gulliver discovered how the court were planning to blind and starve him slowly to death.
In ‘Animal Farm’ the equality Major emphasized so much is jeopardised by the pig’s greater intelligence, ‘with their superior knowledge it was natural that they should assume leadership.’ By becoming the farm’s administrators, the pigs avoided physical work. Orwell suggests here that there is not equality, labour not being equivalent to ‘brainwork’.
Napoleon’s rise to power begins from his nature, ‘a large, rather fierce-looking Berkshire boar, the only Berkshire on the farm, not much of a talker, but with a reputation for getting his own way.’ This description implies power through aggression, which is exactly what happens. When Napoleon’s dictatorship is threatened by Snowball from the animal’s preference to his idea of the windmill, he is chased out of the farm by the nine dogs. Napoleon, who generally represents Stalin, saw Snowball, representing Trotsky’s strategies, and his attempts to educate the other animals, as a threat. He understood that if he kept the animals unintelligent, they would be easier to control for his own benefit, rather than the farms.
It is clear these are his intentions from the start, privately rearing the nine puppies. The nine dogs represent the secret police that silenced, many by death, any rebellious individuals. Their presence in the novel adds a sense of fear and darkness that symbolises corruption, while their actual contribution, is by fighting in the battle of the windmill, and even this is beneficial to Napoleon’s leadership.
Boxer, the hardest working animal on the farm, ‘who is universally respected’ represents the lower class, hard working society of Russia, without him the farm would not succeed. His two maxims’, ‘I will work harder’ and ‘Napoleon is always right’ are both results of his experiences at the hands of dictatorship and limits his thought. There is again no thought given to his feelings or emotions, and even his ‘retirement’ is exploited to the advantage of the pigs.
The pigs’ use of language makes the suffering of the animals sound acceptable. This is the use of propaganda. Squealer’s use of this is crucial to Napoleon’s success in convincing the animals of Napoleon’s fitness of power and validity for the apparent ‘sacrifices’ made. Many words and even whole speeches are not fully understood by the animals, and they are not questioned, due to the convincing act Squealer puts on. The threat of the nine dogs, their own vain hope that things are okay, and that their faith in their leaders, prevents them seeing themselves being systematically betrayed.
Propaganda was used throughout the Russian revolution and this is the point Orwell is making, that the shameless use of it has conflicting effects.
Humour is used in both novels to similar effect. In ‘Gulliver’s Travels,’ ‘toilet humour’ is used throughout, ‘to ease myself with making water; which I very plentifully did.’ This is rare in any writing but Swift continually refers to it, which is quite shocking to the reader. Swift describes his actions with the same tone and format that he uses throughout the story, thereby creating the ironic humour. Orwell similarly applies humour but with greater subtlety, ‘with some difficulty (for it is not easy for a pig to balance on a ladder) Snowball climbed up.’ Here the reader can imagine the event Orwell has described, which creates the humour. The idea of including humour teaches the reader to study other ideas, specifically the satirical aspect.
Both Orwell and Swift wrote about politics. The treatment they received at the hands of those in power influenced their writing. As Orwell once said, ‘Every line of serious work that I have written since 1936 has been written, directly or indirectly, against totalitarianism and for democratic Socialism.’
Orwell suggested that language had to try, as far as possible to reflect the truth of an issue. In his writing style, thoughtless language and complex writing was avoided, and straightforward wording used. This technique was used in the hope of not misleading the reader and helped make the message as clear as possible. There is the satirical parody here of the contrast of how political writing is often distorted and purposely relays false meanings. Swift was not able to do this with the same impact. This was probably due to the fact, that by making his point too obvious, he would endanger himself from the people he was satirising, this creates a sense of irony.
The main point that both these novels compare on is the great irony in the general outline of each story. ‘Gulliver’s Travels’ tell us of the supposedly successful, civilised people of Lilliput. Gulliver exposed them as corrupt, disloyal and animal-likes individuals. Animal Farm however, tells us of these apparent, well-meaning and thoughtful animals that are exposed as having careless, slovenly and corrupt human characteristics.
Despite several hundred years separating the two authors, there are many similarities and contrasts between ‘Gulliver’s Travels’ and Animal Farm’. The novels were both very successful and were appreciated by a wide audience.
On a personal level I found, Gulliver’s Travels’ and ‘Animal Farm’ equally appealing. I was surprised to find how subtle techniques, use of language and the general style, left me to interpret the writers’ intentions. Both novels are exceptional and have inspired me to find and explore similar styles of work.
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